In today's cross-platform market, we all strive to understand the consumer mindset. We do this so that we may better inspire, engage and compel people with our brands wherever they are. Therefore, getting a handle on "influence" across platforms has become a huge focus for marketers. The problem is that influence is often confused with "popularity." And almost every cross-media measurement and monitoring tool we use at our companies stands to further confuse the issue. Focusing on popularity is simply wrong. It's a trivial measure that means nothing to our marketing efforts.

Influence is far more about the passion behind an individual's message than how many people they know and even how connected they are online. If you truly believe that a product is right for you, and that it works and deliver benefit, then you genuinely want to influence the buying habits of your friends. If you feel that you got a great deal on a product, you want your circle of friends to benefit from that deal. That's influence at work.

As you look at the data out of any number of available systems or tools, there may be people who have far more followers, relative to their peers, but are they authentic, committed and persistent with the messages they send? This distinction is why deeper analysis is so important. Does the person's message get pushed out even further, every time this influencer projects something of meaning into his or her social graph? Passion, resonance and velocity are key components to active influence. And, that's what marketers want.

Marketers need to pay attention to whom they are targeting, and the tendencies and extended reach of that influencer, so that future messages get into the right hands where they can be shared in an authentic way that works for the brand and, more importantly, for the consumer. You've got to know the difference between watching popularity and watching influence – and you've got to have the right tools to do something with what you learn.

A recent piece in PaidContent, discussing the work in "The Rise of Digital Influence," a report out by the Altimeter Group. Delved into this issue and the market confusion that exists. It looked specifically at companies like Klout, PeerIndex, Cred and others peddling "influence software" – and how brands are using their data:

"Early in [our] research, [we] learned that the definition of influence was elusive or in some cases, downright incorrect. But, [we] can tell you this — influence is not popularity and popularity is not influence. It's so much more than that…

After spending a lot of time with brand managers, agency professionals, and connected consumers, it was clear that people focused on individuals' scores. Brands sought out people with high scores. Users pursued ways to increase their scores. Services built programs that rewarded those with high scores. But very little went into gaining a better understanding of what the number actually meant for brands and consumers alike.

Through very public experimentation, brands are beginning to learn that scores do not matter as much as the context of relationships. Consumers are learning that gaming scores or being part of branded marketing activity without purpose may negatively affect their status online.

Since these scores are imprecise, brands need to take responsibility for translating these numbers into insights. By not clearly defining their social influence goals, businesses have been wasting time, resources, and squandering opportunities to build important relationships."

This piece suggests that the difference between influence and popularity is dawning on brands – and that they are looking less at what are essentially popularity rankings of social consumers. Let's hope so. That brands and consumers have both tended to focus on "scores" creates confusion and distracts us from real patterns of active, usable influence. Focusing on popularity alone yields nothing and will lead to unnecessary levels of reiteration. In short, it is trivial, and it wastes our time and resources.

And, it is worth noting, when it comes to doing this at scale with women – a group that takes its own influence through messaging, reviewing, sharing and curating incredibly seriously -- a brand can't afford to watch and leverage the wrong women. Popular chatter will do nothing for your brand, but legitimate, propagating influence will. Find and understand those women. Focusing there is where the good work is to be done, as marketers.

Bonnie Kintzer is Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Marketing Inc. the authority on how women consume media. Women’s Marketing Inc. services more than 300 clients in the beauty, fashion and health space by delivering the best integrated advertising solutions in digital, print and out-of-home. Bonnie has built a distinguished career in the media world with a strong focus on revenue creation and reengineering. Bonnie can be reached at bkintzer@womensmarketing.com.

Read all Bonnie's MediaBizBloggers commentaries at The W Factor.

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